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Bell councilman says colleagues 'holding the city hostage'

The lone council member in Bell not charged in a sweeping public corruption case accused his colleagues of "holding the city hostage" and urged them to start showing up for meetings to tend to the city's fiscal crisis.

"Do the work you swore to do," Lorenzo Velez said during a Friday morning news conference outside City Hall. "You committed yourself to this; participate, don't hide and hold us hostage anymore."

The City Council has met only three times in the last five months, even as interim City Administrator Pedro Carrillo has warned that the city needs to quickly cut spending or risk insolvency. Carrillo estimated that the small town in southeast Los Angeles County may face a deficit of $3.5 million to $4.5 million by the end of the fiscal year.

He said that the city was at a "financial crossroad" and that the council should consider drastic steps to stave off possible bankruptcy, including making across-the-board salary cuts, restructuring employee benefits, eliminating some city services and perhaps disbanding the Police Department.

Carrillo said the city could begin experiencing money problems by May if steps weren't taken.

Carrillo said he sent council members an e-mail Thursday afternoon asking for dates they would be available to meet. None, including Velez, have responded.

A council meeting scheduled last week to grapple with the proposed cuts was canceled when Mayor Oscar Hernandez called in sick and Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo was taken to the hospital.

Both Hernandez and Jacobo have repeatedly called in sick, and on one occasion when they did show up for a council session, they walked out after being heckled by the crowd.

Velez said that he had tried to speak with Jacobo and Hernandez but that they had not returned his calls.

Hernandez's attorney Stanley Friedman said that his client had not received a phone call from Velez and that he was planning on attending the next meeting, once it is scheduled.

Jacobo's attorney Daniel Nixon did not return calls seeking comment.

After Velez's news conference, Carrillo and the councilman exchanged words in the interim city administrator's office. Carrillo reminded Velez that he could ask the mayor to call a meeting or that, with two other members, he could call a meeting. But he said Velez had failed to do either. Velez stormed out of Carrillo's office but then resumed talking with the media outside.

Velez is running for reelection in the March elections, in which his colleagues are targeted for recall.

ruben.vives@latimes.com

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